Taking care with ads for self-care

Self-Care refers to the actions that individuals take for themselves, on behalf of and with others, in order to develop, protect, maintain and improve their health, wellbeing or wellness.  Because of the on-going pandemic, this year has been a significant challenge for everyone and perhaps self-care is more important now than ever.

From a marketing perspective, ‘Self-Care’ covers a large range of products and services ranging from foods and supplements, weight management products and therapies (including alternative and complementary therapies), to over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and medical devices.  Here are a few things that marketers will need to consider if they are advertising these types of product.

Foods and food supplements

A balanced diet is vital to health and well-being but marketers of foods/drinks and food supplements should be aware that there are specific rules in the CAP Code which restrict advertising claims that suggest a link between a food product and health. This CAP Advice provides an overview of the rules and the EU Regulations on which they are based.

Particular care is needed during this pandemic and the ASA has ruled against marketers who have suggested that vitamin supplements can boost the immune system and potentially protect against the virus.  Our previous article discusses the risks of making advertising claims for foods which reference the immune system, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Medicines and medical devices

Self-care covers those general and OTC medicines which are licenced for use by the medicines regulator (the MHRA).  Marketers of licensed medicines are reminded that advertising claims should be in line with the summary of product characterises (SPC) that accompanies that licence. This MHRA guidance is vital reading.

Social media influencers can play an important role in spreading messages of self-care, but significant caution is needed if marketers want to use an influencer to promote a medicine.  This is because choosing an individual who has a sway over the marketing decisions of a specific audience could breach advertising rules when used to promote medicines. This is explained further in this AdviceOnline entry and in our previous article.  

Marketers are reminded that medicinal claims are not permitted for unlicensed products. Medical devices also need to be appropriately certified before medical claims are permitted. Our article here examines the issues that came out of a spate of ASA rulings in 2020 about IV Nutrition drips ads making medicinal claims for unlicensed products. Marketers must also hold robust clinical evidence to support the medicinal claims they make in their ads for certified devices. 

Weight control and slimming products

Maintaining a healthy weight is considered a significant element of self-care.  Ads for weight-control products and programmes are generally permitted, but claims are subject to specific rules.

As well as being mindful of the rules on weight-control claims (including specific restrictions on food products and medicines), marketers should also carefully consider their role in ensuring weight-control products are promoted in a responsible way, especially when using influencers.  In 2019 the ASA ruled that a food product advertised by an aspirational influencer amongst young people was irresponsible for multiple reasons, which included the editing of images to make her look artificially thin.  Similar concerns were investigated in relation to influencer ads for a prescription-only weight control product.


For further guidance, see our AdviceOnline entries and if you need bespoke advice on your non-broadcast ads then our Copy Advice team are here to help.

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